42 Minute NHS Computer Login Time Tops Medscape UK Slow IT Poll

Tim Locke

January 15, 2020

We asked who had the slowest NHS IT login time in a recent Medscape UK reader poll – and 42 minutes was the longest.

We began the poll after NHS England announced a £40m project to speed up IT systems.

Our results come as Microsoft ends general support for older PCs running Windows 7. However, many NHS organisations have arranged for extended support and virus protection.

NHS Digital told us that 1,376,310 PCs and laptops are licenced to use Windows in NHS England. But fewer than half (587,531) are known to be running the latest system, Windows 10.

In a statement it said: "There is support from Microsoft for devices using Windows 7, in all NHS organisations, until 14 January 2021. Migration to Windows 10 is a process which will differ depending on the specific needs of the organisation. We are working closely with the NHS to offer support to migrate to Windows 10 and are on target to complete this before the extended support period ends."

Sloooow PCs

Of the 220 UK responses to our poll, one reader faced 42 minute logins and two had daily half-hour waits.

The 42 minutes were reported by a reader from Essex who said: "When working it can be difficult to find a terminal. 

"Sometimes passwords fail. I have had to hand write the odd referral for the secretarial staff to transcribe - really frustrating."

One reader from Sheffield wrote: "I am a homeworker and find it frustrating being automatically logged off the work system and having to fully turn off the computer and fully re-start more than three times for 10.5 hour shift. Which means on average 30 times logging in the different systems I need for my job."

The other '30 minuter' from the North West of England said it was "No surprise that managers (who are usually just answering or writing emails or using spreadsheets/databases not dealing directly, every minute of the day with patients) are the ones with the most up-to-date tech (fast laptops/iPads, up to the minute smart phones) whilst those of us with patient contact as our main role are left using desk-top PCs that still have floppy drives and take 30-40 minutes to get to a point where the PC can actually be used without 'hanging'." 

Their login times have also doubled, "Often meaning that you have to come in early to a clinic to fire up the PC so that it is running when your first patient arrives, never mind the fact that the PCs are so old they do not have a camera allowing the use of Skype even if you wanted to. 

"It just goes to show how far removed from reality are the upper echelons of the NHS system and where the budgets really go."
 

Multiple Systems

As well as putting the boot into start up times, readers also reported having to login in to multiple systems. Thirty was the highest for one reader, 25 for another, and 20 for three others.

And what made up some of the 30 systems? "Different systems for imaging, labs, GP notes, hospital letters, electronic observations," they wrote. "All log you out if not used for 5 minutes.

"The computers regularly freeze, three work stations for 28 beds (currently plus 20 'escalation' beds) but no additional IT.... need I say more."

The fastest login reported was 30 seconds in anaesthesiology. But even that user from Newcastle Upon Tyne faced frustrations: "Too many repeat logins and frequent password changes."

Across the replies the average login was 7.8 minutes, the median was 5.5 minutes.

The average number of systems used was 5.9, the median was 5.

We asked how things had changed in NHS IT over the past 2 years – covering the time when tech enthusiast Matt Hancock has been secretary of state for health and social care for England. Fewer than 1 in 7 saw improvements:  

Worse 47%
About the same 38%
Better 15%

(Online responses 7-14th January 2020)

'Antiquated'

We also asked for any further details of IT experiences, and the answers were not encouraging:

  • "Antiquated systems that do not communicate."

  • "Pathology service freezes randomly and no-one seems to be able to fix it."

  • "Apart from slow systems, most of the programs are 'downgraded' (not working) on a daily basis."

  • "I have worked at this hospital for 20 years. We have the same computers that were brought in about 17 years ago."

The issue wasn't just timing for one doctor: "Slow and multiple logons are a problem but a major underlying problem that is being completely ignored is that doctors are slow and expensive typists and are spending too much time interacting with technology when they should be talking to patients. At the very least, we need speech or handwriting recognition technology... and secretaries to listen to the dictation... correct dictation errors, pick up instructions and control the sharing of the information."

Another pointed out that, "Also not helping is the internal market and tendering process, which means every trust has a different system and multiple software packages incompatible with each other."

Another had a dramatic solution: "Bring back paper notes!"

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